Thank you, Cornel. What we are doing this evening is both welcoming a new generation to read this classic work of Frantz Fanon that 60 years ago passionately called for the people of Africa to rise up to cast out and to cast off colonization by the European powers—and, we would be remiss if at the same time we failed to learn from the positive yet also look critically at what Fanon wrote, both in its time, but especially now when the world is in dire need of revolution to throw off the scourge of imperialism. The hour is late for the future of humanity, so a critical look with an eye to what is to be done now will be my main focus. I look forward to our having a lively and principled dialogue of unity and struggle.
I also want to thank Grove Press for bringing out this new edition; the Brooklyn Book Festival; and all who are watching here at Revolution Books (in the store and outside), as well as on the livestream.
Reading anew Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, I was struck by the fire of Fanon's implacable hatred for what European colonialism had done to the very being of the people and the countries of Africa. Fanon's vividly portrayed psychic cost in bodies, minds and spirit are daggers. Fanon was on a mission to sound an alarm and wake up nations and peoples.
What stands out the most in The Wretched of the Earth is Fanon's understanding of how the degradation, white supremacy, and the terror inflicted by colonialism impacted the mentality of the oppressed. He writes:
“In the colonial countries ... the policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that the agents of government speak the language of pure force.”
Fanon also excoriates the ruling class, the local national bourgeoisie subordinated to, and subservient to the colonizing imperialists. He trenchantly exposes and reveals how they will not and must not be relied on to lead the struggle for liberation. Fanon was an advocate and active participant in the revolutionary struggle in Algeria.
For these reasons and more, Fanon had a positive impact on tens of thousands of militant youth who awoke to political life in the ’60s, drawing them toward revolution. He is an important part of that era and as such should be studied today—with both his positive contributions and his shortcomings learned from, to go forward.
At the same time, in retrospect—and from the point of view of what has been learned over the decades since, and specifically through the work that Bob Avakian has done to develop the new communism, it is possible—and necessary—to conclude that there are some significant shortcomings in Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth that can lead to real problems.
I want to draw attention to two matters of fundamental principle.
Fanon argues that:
“... the colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. The praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end…”
Praxis means practice. For Fanon, it is through violence that the colonial mentality is shed, and it is through the violence that the goal is determined.
It is not that there is nothing to the idea that actually waging struggle, including armed struggle, against the oppressor can, if it is part of an overall correct approach, contribute to casting off “superstitious awe” toward the oppressive force that has ruled over and degraded the oppressed.
But violence against the oppressors is not, or should not be, the purpose (or end in itself) in waging revolutionary struggle. The purpose, the goal is—it needs to be—something much higher and more profound:
putting an end to the oppressive system, putting an end to all oppression and exploitation, emancipating all the oppressed and ultimately all of humanity.
And the violence, which historical experience and the application of the scientific method demonstrate is necessary, to achieve this fundamental goal and purpose, must be waged in a way consistent with and as an expression of this goal and purpose—and not something in contradiction and conflict with it, nor something as a purpose in itself.
Along with this Fanon says, which Cornel West cites in his new Introduction as the very definition of decolonization: “'The last shall be first.' Decolonization is verification of this.”
NO. The goal of the struggle for liberation should not be that “the last shall be first” but rather getting to the point where, throughout the world, there are no longer those who are first and those who are last. The goal needs to be getting to a communist world, with the achievement of overcoming ALL classes and class distinctions; ALL the enslaving relations of exploitation that come from the capitalist-imperialist mode of production; ALL the social relations that correspond to those relations of production; and ALL the ideas which reflect and reinforce those exploitative and oppressive relations throughout the world. First developed by Marx, these “4 Alls” are a hallmark and fundamental principle of the new communism. Without this, we are back to all the inequality and horrors of the system billions suffer under today.
If we are aiming for eliminating all forms of exploitation and oppression worldwide, we need to critically look at how Fanon approaches the relationship between nationalism and internationalism. Fanon essentially sees that nationalism is a precondition for internationalism, with internationalism reduced to an expression of support for another nation's struggle for their independence.
In this connection, a breakthrough of the new communism is the understanding that in an overall and fundamental sense, the international dimension is principal and decisive. Why? Because imperialism is an international system. What happens in the economic, political and ideological life of any single country is more determined by the dynamics of what is going on in the world as a whole than the internal dynamics of that country. Waging the revolutionary struggle in a particular country has its own particular features and dynamics. But, these are secondary to the material reality that these revolutions take place as part of a larger process on a world level. This is one more reason why our goal must be to emancipate all humanity.
Continuing our charge tonight to discuss the relevance of The Wretched of the Earth to revolution and liberation today, I want to turn to the new introduction written by Cornel.
This new introduction puts forth some pertinent points, including Fanon's influence on the revolutionary anti-colonial struggle in the 1950s and early ’60s—where Cornel writes that Fanon tells of “empire driven analysis of a war-like white supremacy that permeates the very souls of colonial subjects as well as shapes every sphere of colonial society.”
At the same time, there are statements that I think are wrong and harmful, both in historical context and for what is urgently needed and possible in the world today.
To begin, there are the first two sentences of the new introduction:
“Frantz Fanon is the greatest revolutionary intellectual of the mid-twentieth century. He also is the most relevant for the twenty-first century.”
With the first sentence, we must respectfully—but strongly—disagree. The greatest revolutionary intellectual of the mid-20th century (and up until his death in 1976) was Mao Zedong—and, yes, Mao was a revolutionary intellectual, and a theoretical as well as a practical revolutionary leader.
It was Mao who, in the middle of the 20th century (in 1949), led the long process of the Chinese revolution to victory, emancipating hundreds of millions of Chinese people from centuries of horrific, inhuman oppression and exploitation by imperialist and “domestic” exploiters and oppressors, and then led in the continuation of this revolution, while providing inspiration to billions of the oppressed throughout the world, including Black people in the U.S., whose struggle against their oppression Mao strongly supported. In the course of doing this, Mao developed the theoretical, political and strategic as well as ideological lines that scientifically exposed the features of colonial oppression, and its relation to the overall system of capitalism-imperialism, not only in China but in the colonized (and neo-colonized) countries generally and provided important orientation and guidance for the revolutionary struggle in those countries, with significant relevance for the revolutionary struggle in the world as a whole, including in imperialist countries like the U.S. And, yes, Mao also spoke to the problem of the “colonial mentality” among the oppressed in countries of the Third World—for example, there is his typically earthy comment that, “As soon as a foreigner farts here, there is always someone Chinese to say it smells good!”
Following the initial victory of the Chinese revolution, and with the advance on the road of socialist construction and transformation for several decades, Mao continued advancing the scientific theory of revolution, including his most crucial contribution, the basis for the danger of the restoration of capitalism after the revolution—an understanding which was unfortunately borne out after Mao's death.
There's more to say about Mao's contributions, and we have prepared a short paper from which I drew this talk, which you can get at the counter or from a representative of Revolution Books tonight.
As for the second sentence of Cornel's introduction, that Fanon is also the most relevant revolutionary intellectual for the 21st century, here again, we must respectfully, but strongly disagree. An article on our website revcom.us states simply and clearly, on a scientific basis:
“Bob Avakian (BA) is the most important political thinker and leader in the world today.”
Bob Avakian is a revolutionary intellectual on the highest level, who has brought forward a further advance in communism—a new synthesis, popularly known as the new communism. In developing the new communism, BA has, with a critical scientific approach, drawn from the mainly positive experience but also from the secondary, and in some cases serious, errors of the communist movement, and the experience of revolutionary struggle broadly (including an early reading of Fanon) and from a broad range of human endeavor. The result of this is that communism has been put on an even firmer scientific foundation, with an even more consistently scientific approach and method, and with an even more thoroughly internationalist orientation, including by critiquing and moving beyond certain secondary but significant tendencies in Mao that went against his overall internationalist orientation.
One of the most important expressions of the new communism is the determined struggle BA has waged to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion that “the ends justify the means” (that any means are justified if the goal is, or is proclaimed to be, righteous). In opposition to this, BA insists that the means utilized in the revolutionary struggle must be in keeping with, and an expression of, this emancipatory goal. BA repeatedly emphasizes that the purpose of this revolution is not revenge, and the fundamental goal is not “the last shall be first, and the first last,” but is the emancipation of humanity—the bringing into being of a world in which there will no longer be those who are “first” and (many) others who are “last.”
More, he has developed an actual strategy for making and winning a revolution in this country. He has authored a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—which is a sweeping vision and concrete blueprint for a radically new, emancipating society. These are unprecedented contributions to revoluton.
Last, it is worth returning to the following statement in the conclusion of Cornel's introduction:
“Frantz Fanon is one of the few great revolutionary intellectuals who always connected the psychic and the political, the existential and the economic, the spiritual and the social.”
Here again, as a revolutionary intellectual, theoretician and practical revolutionary leader, far more than anyone else today—and even beyond what is true of the previous great leaders of the communist movement—Bob Avakian has connected the economic, the political, the social, as well as the cultural, and yes the existential, and (in the right sense) the spiritual and the psychic, in a comprehensive synthesis that is grounded in a thoroughly materialist and dialectical scientific method and approach.
So, again, we must respectfully—but strongly—insist that, particularly in terms of the urgent needs in this time, while there are things to learn from the best of what is represented and has been contributed by Fanon as well as from what is negative, beyond that, the most advanced, scientifically based synthesis of revolutionary thinking overall, the most important body of work of an intellectual, theoretical and practical revolutionary—is what has been developed, and even now is being further developed, by BA. There is a short piece that we have prepared that goes into these critiques in more depth available at the counter and from Revolution Books staffers.
Far too few people have even heard of Bob Avakian, and still fewer have seriously engaged the crucial work that he has done, and is continuing to do. This is a serious problem that all of us have an important responsibility to change, so that the profound, and even existential, situation confronting the masses of people in the world and humanity as a whole, can be transformed in a positive way. This is essential if we ever want to get out from under the horrors of this system and really get free.